Vikings RB Murray carries big load on field and off

Published 8:21 pm Thursday, October 18, 2018

EAGAN — The first sign in Minnesota of Latavius Murray’s varied interests was visible even before he signed his contract with the Vikings last year.

This season, his responsibilities have reached a new high.

That starts at home, where he and his fiancée brought home a baby boy named Major last month. The extra burden has extended to Minnesota’s backfield, where Murray has started three of the past four games for the injured Dalvin Cook. Last week, Murray rushed for a career-best 155 yards to help the Vikings beat Arizona.

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“I try not to get caught up in whether I’m the number one or the number two,” he said. “I have to be me, and any opportunities I get I’ve got to do my best.”

Murray has long applied this wisdom beyond the game, a sixth-year running back ranking among the league leaders in well-rounded lives if the category existed.

During the offseason, he made a second humanitarian trip to Haiti with former Oakland teammate Derek Carr. Then he traveled to Germany and Italy as part of a United Service Organizations tour with a handful of other NFL players to meet with overseas troops. Murray’s fiancée, Shauntay Skanes, is in her 10th year in the Navy.

Moving toward a master’s degree in business administration through Syracuse, his hometown university in upstate New York, Murray is already a T-shirt entrepreneur of sorts. He used to be more personally involved with the merchandising, before outsourcing the work to avoid being too consumed by it.

While his agent negotiated a deal with the Vikings late into the March night in 2017, Murray passed the time on his first visit to the team’s facility with some online work toward his MBA. He’s about halfway done, with a goal of completion for 2019 after he and Skanes are married. That’s one way he has begun to prepare himself at age 28 for his post-football years.

“I’m just hoping that I’m doing something maybe bigger than what I’m doing right now,” Murray said. “That’s more than half of my life I’ll have when I’m done playing the game, and to try and limit it to just this right now would be dumb of me.”

Returning to Minnesota this season required a pay cut to help the team squeeze several big-ticket contract extensions under the salary cap, but the Vikings have been getting a bargain for the second straight year.

In 2017, Murray took over when Cook tore his ACL. This season, Cook has been bothered by a hamstring injury that again kept him from practicing on Thursday. When Murray signed with the Vikings, he was viewed as the replacement for Adrian Peterson. Then the Vikings made Cook their top draft pick and, thus, primary halfback. Murray could have been stung by the arrival of a hotshot rookie, but that wasn’t the case.

“He took me in as a little brother, and that’s what I respect most about him,” Cook said. “Most guys could just brush that off, but I highly respect Latavius for that. To this day, the bond has just got stronger.”

Fondly remembering the way he was treated by his elders with the Raiders, Murray simply made a point to pay that support forward.

“That was the kind of vets I had, guys who weren’t going to act like they were too good or too old or too big to try and teach me the game, hang out with me, have fun and do those kinds of things.”

Murray has a budding family to play for now, too, but his memory of childhood friend Jonathan Diaz has always been painfully close. Diaz was shot to death in Syracuse in 2016, since when Murray’s motivation to succeed on the field has started with him.

Diaz would have been proud of how Murray plowed through the Cardinals last Sunday, stiff-arming a safety on his way to a 21-yard touchdown run that helped the Vikings set the tone for an important victory.

“We love blocking for him,” left guard Tom Compton said. “He gives you a lot of options. If you’re a little shaky on anything, he’ll definitely help you out and run a guy over for you.”

With a forward lean to his running style that leads to plenty of yards after contact, Murray is a perfect complement to Cook and his more elusive skillset.

“He’s a great person. He’s very diligent about his work. He practices hard, but he’s got good feet and acceleration,” coach Mike Zimmer said, adding: “When he gets a chance, very seldom is this guy going backward when he gets hit. A lot of those things I really like.”